LGBT Spotlight: David O'Callaghan

David Ocallaghan 16 9

Studies have shown that people are happier and more productive if they live and work in a psychologically safe space. It's incredibly important to us at Alfa that everyone knows they are safe to be who they are, and know they can bring their whole selves to work.

David has been at Alfa for eight years, working across four continents and on two major versions of Alfa Systems. Currently a Project Manager, he has held a range of roles with us, including Project Support and Development Lead. Below we deep dive into David's perspective on life and work at Alfa, the industries we work in, and how being openly gay fits into all that.

Let's kick off talking about your life before you were working at Alfa. You joined with an undergraduate degree from Trinity College Dublin and a Master’s from the University of Sydney. Were you out at college?

David: I was out during my master's degree, not my undergraduate. I came out to my sister earlier, at around age 18, and then to a small group of friends, but I was about 22 or 23 by the time I was out to everybody.

So were you always out in the workplace?

I was never in the closet I would say, and I never lied about it. I just never made a point of talking about it, and the first person I told at Alfa that I was gay was about six months in. At the time there was only one other out person in the company. There is some feeling of a duty to be out at work, and it's a shame that's necessary, but it's what enables change. 

How easy has it been to be out at work?

Very easy. I've been given very good opportunities, and they've always been extended by people who knew I was gay. I never really think about it at work. When I first started, I felt I wanted to prove myself independent of my sexuality, but it is very clear now that I didn't have to feel this way. 

Do you think being openly gay has had an effect on your career?

No, definitely not; Alfa has been very good.

When you were offered a leadership role, were you ever concerned about how you'd be received based on your sexuality?

No, I was nervous about the new role and responsibilities, more than anything to do with my sexuality, there was no need to be worried about that.

Has anyone on the Operational Board or Executive Committee ever expressed their support for the LGBT, or you specifically?

David: Someone at the top of the company had used an opportunity to tell me that they knew I was gay, and that they were supportive of it. This was lovely and it definitely confirmed that I had nothing to worry about at Alfa. It was a personal conversation so I won't say any more than that. But yes senior leadership have made explicit overtures to me to show their support.

And how would you say the industry is with regard to the LGBT community?

Software is known for being very progressive. I can't speak for the asset finance industry as a whole, but I've been more involved with the US auto finance industry in my most recent years, and they've been really great. A lot of our US clients have visible LGBT leadership. One of our clients even had a statement before the US government made civil partnerships and marriage legally equal, stating that their same-sex couples would enjoy the exact same benefits as heterosexual couples. It was great to see that.

Do you think Alfa has improved in terms of LGBT inclusion in your time here?

Yeah, definitely. Even living in a bit of a bubble in Detroit or Atlanta I can see the visibility of those across the world. I wish it was there earlier so I could know I'd immediately feel comfortable. We have always hired lovely, open-minded people (our hiring is great and always has been) whose attitudes have always been very supportive, but the focus on the conversation has been made more explicit recently, which is great. There is definitely a selection bias that is not necessarily our fault - gay people probably haven't felt welcomed by the fintech and banking industries historically - but that is starting to change, and we need to do our part to help that counterbalance.

Where do you think the conversation is going next?

I think trans rights are the biggest issue at the moment. We are making good progress in terms of gay rights, but the issues that the gay community encounters - especially in the parts of the world that Alfa operates in - can pale in comparison to those being faced by the trans community. 

Do you have any advice for anyone who isn't out at work?

While I ultimately think it's important that people are out at work, I understand that it is a difficult and slow process and not something you can rush. If anybody finds themselves in this situation I'll be happy to talk to them, and I'll be understanding; know that I'm not going to out them! It's something we need to help people through as a company and be available for them. For us as a company to be more inclusive, it is important for us to do what we can to understand why somebody is reticent to be themselves at work. It's definitely a nice thing if we're able to help someone through that.

Do you have any advice you'd pass back to a younger version of yourself?

Come out a few years earlier. When I came out all of my friends and family were hugely supportive, as I should have expected. The equal marriage referendum in Ireland was also a real watershed moment for Irish LGBT people, and it banished any lingering doubts I had about being accepted. 

Finally, what advice would you give any LGBT applicants at Alfa?

Just be yourself. We're extremely privileged here in that it doesn't matter at all. The vast majority of countries we operate in have equal marriage, which is a pretty good indicator of acceptance, and as I said earlier our culture is really supportive.